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Pittsburgh superintendent focuses on principals to help schools

Ohanian Comment: Here we get another glimpse of the corporate takeover of schools. The Broad Financed education change: Dispense with principal annual raises and pay them a bonus for increase in standardized test scores. Under these conditions, what will be the basis for principals' evaluation of teachers? Broad will probably pay them to send observers to New York to see how teacher-evaluation-by-test-score is moving along there.

It is no coincidence that Roosevelt is a 2003 graduate of the Broad Center for Superintendents. In a Broad Foundation news release he is described as an "aggressive, results-oriented leader."

by Joe Smydo, The Associated Press

CARRICK, Pa. - When faculty at Pittsburgh Roosevelt PreK-5 struggled with the demands of a new reading program last school year, Principal Vince Lewandowski counseled patience and assigned aides to teachers needing extra help.

Lewandowski had good reason to intervene. Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt is holding him personally responsible for the performance of 435 students at the Carrick school.

Roosevelt wants to transform principals from building managers, responsible for buses and discipline, into instructional leaders focused on student achievement and held accountable for results.

Over the past two school years, Roosevelt told principals about their new role, started a Pittsburgh Leadership Academy to help them adjust and created a "School Plan for Excellence" for each building.

This year, he's ratcheting up the pressure with a pay-for-performance program that did away with annual raises but will offer most principals up to $12,000 in bonuses based on student achievement and other factors.

Roosevelt also started the separate Pittsburgh Emerging Leadership Academy , funded with $1.8 million from the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation , to recruit aspiring principals and train them in the new style. Eight district employees gave up their regular jobs to join the yearlong program, which includes on-the-job training under a veteran principal, homework and a commitment to stay with the district for three years.

Involving principals more deeply in instruction is one part of an improvement strategy for a district that's missed federal performance standards five years in a row. Principals still oversee discipline and bus lines, but they're also learning about curriculum, attending faculty meetings and guiding teachers.

A principal for five years, Lewandowski these days he may walk into a classroom and ask students, "What are you doing? Why are you doing it?"

He said the answers offer quick insight into teacher and student work.

When grade-level teachers have weekly meetings, Lewandowski attends to review tests and projects. The sessions offer cues to what students are learning and what needs to be retaught.

About 22 percent of Pittsburgh Roosevelt's students are black and 67 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. On 2006-07 standardized tests, the school beat district averages and state targets in reading and math, outperforming some schools with lower poverty rates.

At Lewandowski's side this school year is Ruthie Rea, a reading program coordinator accepted into the Pittsburgh Emerging Leadership Academy.

As the school year unfolds, her responsibilities grow. She'll run a faculty meeting, a parent forum and summer school, then wait to be appointed a principal somewhere in the district.

"You're learning as you're doing," she said of the training program.

The shift in principals' duties is occurring nationwide, and it took place in Pittsburgh once before.

A number of urban districts experimented with a revamped principal's role in the 1990s, said Richard Halverson, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The movement picked up speed with the 6-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires reading and math proficiency for all public-school students by 2014.

A 2004 Wallace Foundation study called principals the most important factor in student achievement, besides teachers, and said principals' impact is greatest on disadvantaged students. Yet researchers also have criticized traditional university-based principal certification programs as low quality and out of touch with school districts' needs.

Alternative principal development programs sprung up to fill the gap, and Pittsburgh's is a variation on the theme.

Former White House and U.S. Education Department aide Jon Schnur helped found New Leaders for Schools in 2000 after noticing that some principals had a can-do mind set that promoted achievement. The program recruits aspiring principals with that attitude and gives them a year of course work and on-the-job training.

"We've had some good results and we're still learning," said Schnur, whose program has trained more than 430 principals and placed them in some of the nation's most troubled districts.

New York City Leadership Academy's 14-month training program begins with a summer institute that exposes participants to district improvement initiatives, case studies and simulations.

Dallas, Houston and New York are among the districts that have established pay-for-performance programs to focus principals on student achievement. But a December report by the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington, D.C., said there wasn't enough evidence to say whether the programs are effective.

When Roosevelt arrived in Pittsburgh more than two years ago, he noticed some schools were beating the odds.

One of 12 schools with predominantly low-income enrollment surpassed reading and math targets on the state test in 2005-06, and five others beat the math target alone.

Believing leadership mattered in schools surpassing expectations, Roosevelt crafted plans for a cadre of instruction-focused principals.

Roosevelt's Pittsburgh Leadership Academy, operated through University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Learning, provides continuing training on curriculum, leadership and other topics to principals.

The district last year received a $7.4 million federal grant to help fund a five-year, nearly $9 million pay-for-performance program that will allow principals to put leadership academy lessons to the test.

Principals' base pay is about $100,000.

They can earn bonuses of up to $8,000 for boosting student achievement, $2,000 for meeting goals in their School Plans of Excellence and $2,000 for meeting other standards and accepting new responsibilities. Up to $2,000 can be accrued as base pay, and principals of eight accelerated learning academies can earn an additional $10,000 in bonuses for running those special schools.

Lewandowski, an upbeat figure who knows his students' life stories by heart, eagerly embraced the new expectations.

Through the Pittsburgh Leadership Academy, he learned about the important role that individual and small-group instruction play in the new reading program. That's why he got teachers extra help when they had difficulty juggling personalized instruction and fast-moving lesson plans.

Lewandowski said the school has increased personalized instruction this school year and assigned students to act as "classroom managers," fielding routine questions from peers to keep teachers focused on teaching. He's also encouraged collaboration among teachers of various grade levels

"Every year, we grow and grow and grow in what we do," he said.

— Joe Smydo, The Associated Press
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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